This is your morning Open Thread. Pour your favorite beverage and review the past and comment on the future.
Find the past “On This Day in History” here.
March 16 is the 75th day of the year (76th in leap years) in the Gregorian calendar. There are 290 days remaining until the end of the year.
On this day in 1802, The United States Military Academy, the first military school in the United States, is founded by Congress for the purpose of educating and training young men in the theory and practice of military science.
Colonial period, founding, and early years
The Continental Army first occupied West Point, New York, on 27 January 1778, making it the longest continually occupied post in the United States of America. Between 1778 and 1780, Polish engineer and military hero Tadeusz Kosciuszko oversaw the construction of the garrison defenses. The Great Hudson River Chain and high ground above the narrow “S” curve in the river enabled the Continental Army to prevent British Royal Navy ships from sailing upriver and dividing the Colonies. As commander of the fortifications at West Point, however, Benedict Arnold committed his infamous act of treason, attempting to sell the fort to the British. After Arnold betrayed the patriot cause, the Army changed the name of the fortifications at West Point, New York, to Fort Clinton. With the peace after the American Revolutionary War left various ordnance and military stores deposited at West Point.
“Cadets” underwent training in artillery and engineering studies at the garrison since 1794. Congress formally authorized the establishment and funding of the United States Military Academy on 16 March 1802,. The academy graduated Joseph Gardner Swift, its first official graduate, in October 1802; he later returned as Superintendent from 1812 to 1814. In its tumultuous early years, the academy featured few standards for admission or length of study. Cadets ranged in age from 10 years to 37 years and attended between 6 months to 6 years. The impending War of 1812 caused the United States Congress to authorize a more formal system of education at the academy and increased the size of the Corps of Cadets to 250.
In 1817, Colonel Sylvanus Thayer became the Superintendent and established the curriculum still in use to this day. Thayer instilled strict disciplinary standards, set a standard course of academic study, and emphasized honorable conduct. Known as the “Father of the Military Academy”, he is honored with a monument on campus for the profound impact he left upon the academy’s history. Founded to be a school of engineering, for the first half of the 19th century, USMA produced graduates who gained recognition for engineering the bulk of the nation’s initial railway lines, bridges, harbors and roads. The academy was the only engineering school in the country until the founding of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in 1824. It was so successful in its engineering curriculum that it significantly influenced every American engineering school founded prior to the Civil War.
The Mexican-American War brought the academy to prominence as graduates proved themselves in battle for the first time. Future Civil War commanders Ulysses S. Grant and Robert E. Lee first distinguished themselves in battle in Mexico. In all, 452 of 523 graduates who served in the war received battlefield promotions or awards for bravery. The school experienced a rapid modernization during the 1850s, often romanticized by the graduates who led both sides of the Civil War as the “end of the Old West Point era”. New barracks brought better heat and gas lighting, while new ordnance and tactics training incorporated new rifle and musket technology and accommodated transportation advances created by the steam engine. With the outbreak of the Civil War, West Point graduates filled the general officer ranks of the rapidly expanding Union and Confederate armies. Two hundred ninety-four graduates served as general officers for the Union, and one hundred fifty-one served as general officers for the Confederacy. Of all living graduates at the time of the war, 105 (10%) were killed, and another 151 (15%) were wounded. Nearly every general officer of note from either army during the Civil War was a graduate of West Point and a West Point graduate commanded the forces of one or both sides in every one of the 60 major battles of the war.